The Jerusalem Post

Netanyahu’s legacy of falsehoods

- • By ELIE PODEH The writer is a professor who teaches Islamic Studies at Hebrew University and is a board member of Mitvim Institute.

Oscar Wilde is reputed to have said, “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” Indeed, Benjamin Netanyahu’s departure from office has made many people happy because of the damage he wrought to the state and Israeli society in so many respects. Some of the damage can be examined by analyzing four of his more memorable sayings, which, to put it mildly, were outright lies.

• “Arab voters are flocking to the polling stations

in droves.”

On March 17, 2015, Israelis went to the polls. Netanyahu, supposedly concerned about a low Jewish turnout, issued an emotional appeal to his followers to go out and vote in order to “dilute” a high Arab voter turnout. His call encapsulat­ed his persistent delegitimi­zation of Israel’s Arab citizens (some 20% of the population), which peaked with the 2018 Nationalit­y Law defining Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, without reference to equality for all its citizens enshrined in its Declaratio­n of Independen­ce.

However, the results of the 2021 elections forced Netanyahu to recalibrat­e his course – the only way he could achieve a 61-seat Knesset majority was to include Arab lawmakers in his coalition. With the end justifying all means, Netanyahu set out to woo Ra’am, the party representi­ng the southern branch of Israel’s Islamic movement.

His seal of approval eventually served his rivals. Whereas the head of the centrist Blue and White party – now Defense Minister – Benny Gantz forfeited his opportunit­y to form a government in 2020 because he feared the inclusion of Arab parties would undermine his party’s Jewish support, Ra’am is now a partner in the new, post-Netanyahu government. The significan­ce and importance of this historic move in terms of Jewish-Arab relations cannot be understate­d, especially given its timing following riots in mixed Jewish-Arab towns.

•“The Left forgot what it means to be Jews. They

think that if we give the Arabs part of our land, they will take care of us.”

With one 1997 hot-mic whisper into the ear of kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri, Netanyahu killed two birds – delegitimi­zing both Arabs and leftists. Netanyahu waged a persistent campaign of incitement against the political Left, although it started before his term, as reflected in Knesset and media comments in the days of his predecesso­rs, Begin and Shamir.

The term “nationalis­t camp,” which the Right uses to describe itself, embodies delegitimi­zation of all other political views as being beyond the “national” pale. Netanyahu did to the Left what the Left, or actually David Ben-Gurion, did to the Right when he coined the phrase “without Herut and Maki,” delegitimi­zing Begin’s then-radical right and the extreme left Communist party.

NETANYAHU’S STIGMA against the political Left as a legitimate partner in his government­s expanded quickly to include parties in the ideologica­l center (Blue and White, Yesh Atid), and even some on the Right (Yamina, New Hope). In other words, under Netanyahu, “the Left” became a pejorative code word for anyone who was not “one of us.” The new government, which spans the political spectrum from right to left, to a large extent is rehabilita­ting the parties of the Left.

• “We have to protect the villa against the wild


Netanyahu made this comment in February 2016, while surveying the security fence being built along the border with Jordan. It was reminiscen­t of the expression coined by former prime minister Ehud Barak, describing Israel as a “villa in the jungle.” To a large extent, this term reflects both men’s perception of Israel’s place in the Middle East. In many respects, it also echoes Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s 1920s concept of the “Iron Wall” which should separate the Jews from their Arab neighbors.

However, the 2020 signing of the Abraham Accords with the UAE and Bahrain illustrate­d that the Middle East is comprised not only of “wild animals” but also of friendly countries in the region. What is more, an examinatio­n of Israeli foreign policy in the Middle East since the Arab Spring illustrate­s that the patronizin­g perception of an isolated “villa” is not the prism through which Israel views the Middle East. The behind-the-scenes intelligen­ce and security cooperatio­n with Egypt, Jordan, most Gulf States, Morocco, as well as others in the region proves that not only is Israel not an isolated villa, it maneuvers adroitly around a region most of which is not a jungle. In general, such generaliza­tions and demonizati­on must be rejected categorica­lly.

• “Peace in return for peace.”

When the first official Israeli delegation left for Bahrain on October 18, 2020, Netanyahu credited the policy that he had long espoused of “Peace in return for peace, economy in return for economy” for the breakthrou­gh with the Arab world. The “peace for peace” doctrine that Netanyahu has promoted is factually false because all the peace agreements, perhaps barring the one with Bahrain, were achieved in return for some form of payment by Israel and/or the US. What is more, they were accomplish­ed by diverting attention from the truly important issue of relations with the Palestinia­ns.

In other words, the peace with Arab states on Israel’s periphery was designed to divert attention from the core issues of Palestinia­n statehood and Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and of the settlement enterprise. The latest operation in Gaza and the violence in Jerusalem and in mixed Jewish-Arab towns provided a reminder to anyone who needed it of where the real and acute problems lay. These are the real problems that Netanyahu tried to blur, bury and silence – successful­ly so, to a large extent.

Just like all propaganda, the relentless preaching by Netanyahu and others on the Right regarding these issues belies reality. Netanyahu’s changing views and policies over the years – for example, regarding Israel’s Arab citizens, his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech on the two-state solution and the signing of the normalizat­ion agreements – only serve to highlight his opportunis­tic use of political rhetoric for short-term goals, placing his true beliefs in doubt.

It is incumbent on the new government, which consists of the Right and the Left, Jews and Arabs, to uproot this imagery and revert to a dignified discourse that does not delegitimi­ze political rivals.

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